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Sometimes we come across people who spend their free time volunteering in different organizations and charitable institutions.

Why do people get involved as a volunteer in an organization?

What is the motivation for people to take their time, money and talent to become involved?

What does it take for volunteers to get involved and stay involved?

Volunteering is important for numerous reasons that benefit both the community and the volunteer themselves.

Volunteering is what makes a community because it brings people together to work on a goal.

By bringing people together to act for the good of the community, voluntary action creates bonds of trust and encourages cooperation.

If the people who volunteer happen to be of different ethnic origins, religions, and economic status, the fact of their acting together can help to increase social harmony.

Volunteerism delivers impressive social benefits. Through voluntary action people create groupings that can cement social norms and inculcate a sense of civic responsibility and belonging (The ESSENTIALS of October 2002 on the topic of ‘Civic Engagement’ offers further analysis and lessons specifically on interaction with civil society).

Research suggests that when networks of voluntary organizations are created which link different interest groups, the increased interaction leads to improved understanding and increased tolerance of diversity (UNV/Institute for Volunteering Research. ‘Volunteering and Social Development: A Background Paper’. New York, 1999, p9-10).

The participatory aspect of volunteerism can contribute to a heightened understanding of the forces which shape governments and societies, leading to greater transparency, accountability and improved governance. Volunteerism also has an important economic impact.

In countries where empirical studies exist, the contribution of volunteering is estimated to be between 8% and 14% of Gross Domestic Product.

On an individual level, volunteerism contributes to capacity building processes by helping the individual volunteer to develop marketable skills, providing access to workplace networks and boosting confidence and self-esteem (ATD Fourth World. ‘Volunteering & Social Inclusion’, 2000.)

Volunteering rates among young people are generally higher than they are among adults 26 and older. However, measuring volunteer rates among all adults is a difficult task (“Measurement of Volunteering: A Methodological Study Using Indiana as a Test Case” in the Non-profit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, Volume 31, issue 4, 2002 by Kathryn Steinberg, Patrick Rooney, and William Chin).

Research from the Work Foundation reveals that ‘interesting and stimulating work’ was considered to be the most important factor (named by 40% of its sample) that made an employer good to work for(Kamarade, D. and B. Burchell (2004). “Teleworking and participatory capital: Is teleworking an isolating or a community friendly form of work?” European Sociological Review 20(4): 1-17).

People increasingly feel that if they look hard enough or wait long enough, something that more exactly suits their needs and desires will appear.

Volunteers now expect a lot more from charities in terms of being given meaningful work, having a say in how the organisation is run and receiving appropriate training, support and recognition.

Volunteers now want to know exactly what it is that they are getting into and how it compares with what others are offering.

Volunteers’ indication that they are primarily motivated by a belief in the cause and a desire to make a difference would suggest that if it is made clear to them that their role (no matter how mundane) contributes to the greater cause of the organisation, they will remain engaged.

Other key motivations that are frequently mentioned both by volunteers and volunteer managers are training and skills, social opportunities, and the desire for an experience or insight.

Too often in most of the society, volunteering is conceptualised as a generous gift of time from the empowered and virtuous volunteer to the helpless recipient.

It is arguable that more needs to be made of the interconnectedness between volunteer and beneficiary and that the elements the beneficiary brings to the table should be better promoted.